Oozing Goo - The Lava Lamp Syndicate

Donald Dunnet - Original Lava Lamp Inventor - Prototypes, Construction details & History.

Hi,

Hopefully with this post I can provide a comprehensive background on the story of Donald and his invention. Donald was my great grandfather and between my father and aunt we have tried to piece together the history of his involvement with the lava lamp. I have thoroughly researched the internet for any mention of him but unfortunately most of it is either vague, incomplete or inaccurate as he is often incorrectly named as 'Alfred Dunnett'. However we did come across some facts that we were not aware of and were surprised by some of the information that is out there. Here I collect together images, memories and other documents that will hopefully give a better understanding.

A note from my father:

'Hello, I'm the grandson of the part time inventor Donald Dunnet who had a patent on the lava lamp in the 50's. My sister wrote an article on this site a while ago and mentioned a photo we were trying to find of lava lamp testing in Donald's workshop. It's included here and as you can see there are several different styles with the one on the far left clearly working well. The date on the back of the photo is Easter 1960.

 

I've also added notes from a pad Donald had written some details about his lamps, including details about the bulbs. As far as we are aware there is no more surviving information or prototypes etc, as we were told that when he died (sometime in the early/mid sixties) his widow, who apparently had little interest in his inventions, unfortunately had his workshop completely cleared.

Also included is a picture of Donald on The BBC Inventors Club demonstrating another of his inventions. In the 60's we had at home one of Donald's last lamps which worked really well and was well developed, quite far removed from his original 'egg timer' based design from the early 50's. From memory it used a Grant's whiskey bottle with Red lava and sat on a smart matt black base. Another unfortunate decision was made when my father threw it away in the 90's because the original fluid inside had broken down. He didn't realise it could have been refilled. Luckily my memory of its design is quite good and I'am looking forward to hopefully producing a replica of this lamp at some point in the near future.'

Donald's hand written wrote isn't particularly easy to read so we've included a 'translation':

'This Lantern may take an hour or so to get going from cold. Bulb is for 230v if local voltage is less fit 40W ball bulb. Arrange about eye level with red mark on bottle neck to the front and for a background use blue as per sample. Do not overheat or have on longer than necessary. Note - Base gets rather warm.'

Interestingly there is also another very similar original note with some additional information/differences to the previous as highlighted. Here is what it said:

'Winchester Half Gall Lantern'

'The lantern may take an hour or so to get hot from cold. Possibly longer the first time. Bulb is for 230v if local voltage is less fit 60w lamp. Red mark on bottle neck to the front and tilt bottle forward for a moment [appears to read: 'to bring ring'] at bottom to the front above the bulb filament. Note base gets rather warm.'

Whilst searching on the internet I came across an interesting letter written to the Independent newspaper, published on the 19th of july 2011 which reads:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/letters-hacking-scandal...

'The light behind the lava lamp

In the lava lamp article in Viewspaper (15 July), your writer refers to the inventor of the lamp; his death before 1960 enabled Craven-Walker to patent the lamp as his own.

The inventor was, I believe, a Scot called Donald Dunnett, a motor engineer and colleague of my late father in the London and Lancashire Insurance Company, which was taken over by the Royal Insurance Company, now part of Royal and Sun Alliance. Mr Dunnett lived in Burgh Heath, Surrey and in his spare time interested himself in gadgets.

One I remember was a form of sweeper to clean the bottom of the local swimming pool. This would have been in the late 1940s. He had two daughters, who, if still alive would be in their seventies. Though Mr Dunnett had no formal claim to be the inventor of the lava lamp, it would be a pity if he were entirely lost to posterity.

Martin Best

Newcastle upon Tyne'

Just to point out a few inaccuracies we are confident that Donald actually passed away sometime between 1960-1964. (I will look further into this to be sure if I can) Also Donald actually had three daughters, one of which, Felicity, my grand mother was mentioned as having been involved in the lava lamp story on this site about half way down the page, in what looks like some kind of newspaper cutting perhaps: 

http://frink.machighway.com/~edwardcr/lavalamptimeline/hippie1.htmll

This is what it said:

'Brief History of the "Astro" Lamp

It all started with the British war-time shortage of egg-timers! The Dunnet family's favourite egg-timer lay shattered on the floor. The youngest daughter, Felicity, looked on shamefaced as the precious pieces were collected up and thrown into the dustbin. But when father Dunnet heard the terrible news, he quickly set to work to produce a substitute. Consulting Engineer to a North British Insurance Company, Mr. Dunnet was a prolific inventor.

If sand could be made to measure time by controlled falling through the air, so could oil be made to measure time by controlled rising to the surface of water. So it was that a kind of inverted egg-timer was born! And from this, through numerous stages came the idea of a water/oil "Bubble Lamp......"'

As some of you may know the patents Donald held for the lamps and some of his other inventions can be found here and provide an interesting insight into their construction: http://patent.ipexl.com/assignee/donald_dunnet_1.html  or  http://worldwide.espacenet.com/searchResults?ST=singleline&loca...

I hope you find this information and small number of photographs of interest, if there is something you'd like to ask please do, and I will do my best to answer them. We do have several more photographs of Donald and some of his other inventions which may be of interest.

Thanks

Charlie

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This is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing! I'm so happy to have this information on our site. :)

Fantastic!!  Great write-up and history!

ATTENTION MODS:  This needs to be added to the Lava Library

This seems really fishy... Two new users come in and instantly are spouting with this news, both saying different things.

Reece, this is in line with what has been said before.  It adds to and clarifies the scant information that we have had.  

Who else has said something different? Just because I have only recently joined I don't see how this is suspicious? Not sure what else I can provide to convince you.

Charlie, please disregard Reece's comment. Reece, please refrain from making comments like this - we have no reason to doubt this story. 

I will get this added to the Lava Library at some point Keith! 

Charlie Leverett said:

Who else has said something different? Just because I have only recently joined I don't see how this is suspicious? Not sure what else I can provide to convince you.

So cool. I love the photo of BBC Television and the lineup of the lamps in the 'lab'. I kind of want to enlarge it, frame and mat and hang it on my wall!

I TOTALLY AGREE with ALL comments!!!!!  Anybody that had a lead into the making and popularity of our beloved lava lamps deserves to be recognized whether still with us or not!!!  It is so cool to see how far back the history of these lamps really goes.......Also, it is easy to steal someone's patent when they pass away.  This happens a lot of times and we don't even realize that whom we think is the original inventor of something is in fact not.  When people pass away, sometimes family members just don't realize what that person had or has and just throws it to the winds and just aren't interested.  The lamp did in fact stand the test of time!!!

Thanks for your interest and enthusiasm everyone, we felt this seemed like a good place to share this information and to try to make Donald's important contribution to the lamp clearer and more cohesive. We also debated passing some of this information onto Mathmos as we are not sure how much of this they know, but not sure whether they would appreciate it!


Erin said:

Charlie, please disregard Reece's comment. Reece, please refrain from making comments like this - we have no reason to doubt this story. 

I will get this added to the Lava Library at some point Keith! 

Charlie Leverett said:

Who else has said something different? Just because I have only recently joined I don't see how this is suspicious? Not sure what else I can provide to convince you.
Also thanks for promoting this post on the site. We just hope as many people as possible who are interested get to read this

You're welcome. :) It's always great to find out new info, esp when you think you've heard it all. I love that you've shared this with us! 

I don't know if Mathmos would want to know or not; that's a good question. Our company here in the US (Lava Lite) doesn't even seem too interested in their own history (or getting it right), so I don't know they'd care either. That's why we have this community - for the hardcore geeks like us who DO care! :)

Charlie Leverett said:


Erin said:

Charlie, please disregard Reece's comment. Reece, please refrain from making comments like this - we have no reason to doubt this story. 

I will get this added to the Lava Library at some point Keith! 

Charlie Leverett said:

Who else has said something different? Just because I have only recently joined I don't see how this is suspicious? Not sure what else I can provide to convince you.
Also thanks for promoting this post on the site. We just hope as many people as possible who are interested get to read this

thank you for sharing this information!  very cool to have the early history of the lava lamp laid out clearly on this site for all to see.

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